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The Kings of Fortune County

By Jay LeBorgne

© 2014

 

Prologue

 At 21:03 Sheriff John King came to a stop behind an apparent abandoned vehicle about 15 miles north of town on old Highway 42.  He did not radio dispatch before slowly exiting his patrol car into the cool October evening air.  As his flashlight led the way, John slowly approached the passenger side of the car.  He suddenly had a gut wrenching feeling something wasn’t right.

At 21:05 John thought of his wonderful wife and their two sons.  He thought of the grandchildren and of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  John thought of his 32 years’ as sheriff of Fortune County and wondered if it was time to hang up his star.  And oddly, he thought of that old tarp-covered bass boat behind the shed and the sound of the motor fading away as he waved to Maggie in her chair on the dock, by the cabin at Duck Lake.

 


 

The King is Dead

The flashing blue lights sparkled off the mist beyond the willows as the headlights illuminated the tarp-covered body of Sheriff John King.

Ray spoke slowly into his radio microphone, “Terrie, this is Deputy Franklyn.”  His voice was strangely calm.

“Go.”

“I got a code 30 and a 10-55 at my location.”

“Oh, c’mon, Ray…just tell me what you want.”

“Terrie, its Mister John.  He’s…he’s dead,” urgency took over his calmness.  “Get everyone, including Doc Duncan, out here…marker 72 on Highway 42…I mean old Highway 42.  And, you better call Mister King, too.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yes’m, very.  And it ain’t pretty.”

Normally, Sheriff King would have told him what to do and when to do it.  That wasn’t going to happen this time.  Ray Franklyn, a tall, well-structured man of 40 years, had been a deputy in Fortune for going on 16 years and this is the first time since he was a rookie cop back in Winston-Salem that he didn’t quite know what to do next.  He set flares and traffic cones and started to tape off the area as he heard the sirens in the distance.  He tried not to look toward the sheriff’s body.  Both legs were protruding from under the tarp.  Ray let the mist run down his cheeks.

     I need to call Miz Maggie, he thought with a heaviness that weighed on him like a ton of bricks.  Oh God, he prayed inwardly, please, oh pleaselet someone else volunteer for that.  Gotta call John Jr and James, and set up an investigation.  Everything was coming to him all at once or not at all.  The radio chirped, cracked and squawked but he didn’t catch any of the words.

The rain fell more steadily as the first car, blaring sirens and flashing lights, came to a screeching halt next to him.  Shortly, emergency vehicles blocked the road.  Deputy Billy Ransom was the first to go over and raise the tarp to look at John.

“What the hell, Ray?  What did they do to him?” he said.

The Coroner and County Medical Examiner, old Doctor Simon Duncan, stout and dapper, quickly approached Ray and Billy, “Guess I’ll have to make that determination, boys.  Y’all move on out and let my team get in here, now.”

“But we haven’t processed the scene, yet, Doc,” Ray replied.

“It’s okay, Ray.  You and your boys take care of the policing and let my fellas do the rest.  It’ll be easier on everyone that way.”

Ray directed the other deputies to different tasks of gathering evidence from around the scene.  The highway patrol officer took measurements of tire marks; Billy picked up cigarette butts from the side of the road within 50 feet of John’s body; Tim and Bo held up traffic allowing the ambulance to get into the scene.  The EMTs assisted the doctor.

“What do you think, Doc?” Ray asked.

“Preliminary.  Looks like two bullets, one to the neck and one to the arm.  I’ll need to get him back to the table before I can give you more information, son.  But I can tell you, by the consistency of the blood, I believe it happened about 2 hours ago, somewhere around 9 o’clock, I guess.”

“How soon will you know, Doc?  I gotta get this under control, asap.”

“Soon is as soon is done, son.  Stop by my place on your way back to the office and see where I’m at with him.  I’ll stay on it.  Remember, he was my friend, too.”

“Yessir, I know.  Okay, Doc, I’ll see you later.”

The phone on the front seat of the late Sheriff John King’s patrol car began to chirp with a picture of a fine, mature woman and the words Commander Home Sweet Home under her lovely face.  Ray did not answer.  The ambulance departed fully lit up, without sirens.  Ray watched as it rounded the bend headed back to Fortune.

  • -

The phone on the office desk was ringing when Jerry Lee King walked in the front door of his early 1950’s colonial.  It was the green work phone.

“Town Manager, Jerry Lee speaking,” he proclaimed slightly out of breath.  He stood back trying to keep the rain water from dripping on the desk.

“Mister King, this Sherrie from the Sheriff’s office.”

“It’s rather later, Sherrie. I hope this is important.”

“Yes sir, um, it is…I mean, well, it’s your brother, sir.”

“Go on, spit it out already.”

“I think you need to go see Doctor Duncan, sir.”

Jerry Lee did not need to hear anymore.  He knew what she meant.  Jerry Lee wanted to end the call but instead asked, “Has anyone contacted Maggie?”

“I don’t think so,” she replied.

“Don’t let anyone call her, I’ll take care of it, you got that?”

“Yes sir.  And, Mister King, I’m sorry, you know…”

“Yes, thank you, Sherrie.  I’m sure you’re feeling bad, too.  Keep the faith young lady.”

He did not wait for a response, he hung up the receiver and sat in his chair with his head in his hands.

  •  -

Jerry Lee’s first memory of he and his brother took him back some 50 years when he was 9 years old.  Back to that day when Johnny saved his life.  The day he slipped from the ledge at Duck Lake near the quarry, and would have fallen near 100 feet had it not been for his big brother’s quick reflexes that allowed John to grab his wrist just before he went completely over the edge.  Fifty plus years of bonus time, a life time that quite possibly should not have been.  He always knew that something could happen to one or either of them but tonight, the reality came home like no news ever had before.  His brother was dead and he was on his way to give his sister-in-law the terrible news.  Jerry Lee called Doctor Duncan while he drove through the fall thunderstorm.  Lightening sparked filling the sky with familiar blue streaks of electricity.  The wind howled over the hum of the engine.  The fall leaves blew wildly as the rain pounded the windshield.

“Hey, Doc, it’s Jerry Lee.  What’s going on with John?”

“I’m real sorry, Jerry Lee but it looks like he bled out from the bullet wound in his neck…”

Jerry Lee interrupted, “Bullet?  What the…he was shot?  Terrie didn’t tell me…well, I guess I didn’t give her a chance.  So, someone killed him?  Murdered him?”

“Yes, Jerry Lee, someone murdered your brother.  Are you coming over?”

“No, I’m on my way to break the news to Maggie.  I’ll be over after.  How long you going to be there?”

“I’ll probably be here most of the night, buddy.  Coffee and cognac later?”

“Yeah, I’ll be there in a while.  It will depend on Maggie and what she needs.”

“Later then…”

Jerry Lee abruptly ended the call.  It had not occurred to him that John had been murdered.  He didn’t know what he thought about how John had died, he just knew that he died.  The knowledge that of a murdered loved one waters the seed of revenge.  And now that starts to grow.  It grows quickly.  Who was it?  Why?  He was full of unanswered questions that would have to wait but someone has to pay for this…justice must be served.  In time he thought but first things first.  His mind shifted and he thought about calling John Jr and James but decided to wait until after he spoke to Maggie.  The lights were on when he pulled into the drive and he started to get upset wondering who spoke to her first.  He could see her silhouette in the front window as she moved quickly toward the front door.  She stood in the doorway.  He was very aware of the tightness in his neck and in his gut. The thunder banged and rumbled as he opened the car door.  His coat was his only shelter from the rain as he ran over the slick, leaf-covered lawn past the brick arch leading to the porch.

“It ain’t good if you’re here and John ain’t, Jerry Lee.  What happened?  Is he still alive?”

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